We need to talk about Long Shot and gender roles in romantic comedies

Even when watching a rom-com, there are certain things you expect to see, even if said rom-com stars dramatic powerhouse and Oscar winner Charlize Theron next to Seth Rogen, someone I think is one of the funniest leading men in the last ten years. Long Shot is a film that film lives in the world of implausibility. Its two leads wouldn’t otherwise be put together; an unlikely couple with a connection.

Long Shot is the new film from Jonathan Levine, the director of 50/50 and Snatched, two films which I wouldn’t describe as…. any good. But I was pleasantly surprised. Rogen’s usual style of comedy is on show start to finish as he plays Fred, a truther journalist. In this film, Rogen gets some great opportunities for a bit of slapstick, a lot of bumbling and plenty of places to throw in the signature gravelly laugh.

And as much as I love this schtick from Rogen, I didn’t expect it to bounce well off of Theron’s Charlotte Field, the US Secretary of State who’s in need of a speechwriter for her run for President. But the two work really well together and have some pretty believable chemistry even in their unbelievable circumstance. Each brings a lot to the table that makes this film feel pretty real from start to finish.

This makes for a film that has just a smattering of big laughs throughout but they’re all linked together by a pretty consistent chuckle that rumbled from me and the audience all the way through. What I did really like about the film though was how Levine flipped the character beats in the film on their head.

Because when we talk about Long Shot, we need to talk about the stereotypical gender roles in romantic comedies.

Call them tropes if you want, but there are certain things you expect when you sit down to  watch a rom-com. They’re all there if you think about some of the iconic rom-coms in the genre’s heyday, I’m thinking How to Lose a Guy in Ten days, Failure to Launch or The Wedding Planner – basically anything with McConaughey pre-Dallas Buyers Club.

Unfortunately, a lot of those tropes are assigned to genders; the man making the first move before doing something wrong. The woman remaining the cool-headed character while the man has to make a big gesture to make everything right. Then the female actors get to be surprised when McConaughey turns up at the airport, making a big speech because he’s the ones that’s realised the error of his ways and everyone’s happy because Men, amiright?!

What I liked about Long Shot is the way it does a good job of flipping a lot of that on its head. Seth Rogen certainly doesn’t make the first move; in fact he verbally announces that he’s too scared to do so. Theron is by far the stronger character of the two, while Rogen bumbles around her like a lovesick puppy.

And Charlize Theron’s character isn’t the stereotypical ‘strong’ female character. She’s created a pretty believable character; one that you’d believe would become Secretary of State. There’s a lot of talk about her high school political career, one that was fuelled by wanting to do the right thing. And this means there’s room for her to also be vulnerable in several points throughout the film and not just the hard-nosed bulldog character that’s so often what ‘strong’ female characters have to be in a film.

And in the continuation of the undefined gender roles, it’s Theron who’s faced with the challenge in the third act of Long Shot that can make or break her new relationship with Seth Rogen – something usually reserved for the male character.

Even the advice-dispensing best friend has been turned on its head. How many times have we seen McConaughey’s co-star being given advice by a girlfriend over a glass of wine? Long Shot instead uses a previously unseen funny bone in O’Shea Jackson Jr. as an infectiously enthusiastic bro whose role is to encourage and uplift Seth Rogen’s struggling journalist.

It’s incredibly refreshing to see that while a film does follow some of the well-versed tropes of its genre, it doesn’t stick to the pre-defined gender roles that they’ve previously demanded.

And what I like most here is that we still have the romantic comedy; a tale of two people coming together and facing some speed bumps on the way to their happy ending. As a genre of cinema, I think the rom-com is always going to have a place because there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a film that bumbles along in the way we expect it to.

So in the same way that Pretty Woman is still on ITV2 every three days, it’s nice to think that a younger generation will see films like Long Shot and not have the same preconceived ideas that the roles within that film can only be filled out by certain genders.

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